Surabaya /\ Suroboyo and the Jayabhaya prophecies.

What’s in a name?

One story behind the etymology of the name Surabaya involves a fusing of the Javanese words Suro & Boyo, referring to a shark and crocodile respectively. The myth states something along the lines of there being a shark called Sura (or Suro) and a crocodile called Baya (or Boyo) who were actually great friends but who were also both greedy and never liked sharing their food. Hence they inevitably ended up fighting each other, the setting of their last fight also becoming the later location of Surabaya. A more interesting and detailed account of this tale can be found here.

The folklore itself actually comes from the Jongko Joyoboyo or Jayabhaya prophecy, Jayabhaya being a revered King of the Hindu Javanese Kingdom of Kediri which existed in Eastern Java from the 11th to 13th century. Sri Mapanji Jayabaya’s reign was considered in many ways to be the golden age of Old Javanese literature. Jayabhaya (or Ratu Joyoboyo in Javanese) was particularly well known for his prophecies and being an oracle of sorts. Here are a few of them that have become true ~

  • One day there will be a cart without a horse (these days they call it a car).
  • There will be a boat flying in the sky (they call it an airplane).
  • The earth will shrink (and thus the internet was born, as well as boats in the sky).
  • The Javanese will be ruled by whites for 3 centuries and by yellow dwarfs for the life span of a maize plant prior to the return of the Ratu Adil (Indonesian: King of Justice, Javanese: King or Queen) whose name must contain at least one syllable of the Javanese Noto Nogoro (witness the play of history from The Netherlands East Indies > Japanese occupation during WWII > Independence > SoekarNO > SoeharTO > Susilo Bambang YudhoyoNO). According to some opinions; BJ Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri cannot be entered into the prophecy as they could not survive & lead Indonesia through one full term and also did not possess the suffix ‘NO’ or ‘TO’ in their name. Further speculation emerges that the prophecy is now still focused on the ‘NO’, having moved away from the ‘TO’ after Soeharto, and that the emergence of ‘GO’ and ‘RO’ is still to come, as is the true Ratu Adil / next Satrio Piningit (hidden Knight/hidden Ksatria) who will finally come to bring glory to Indonesia and usher in the dawn of a new golden age.  This must make for fascinating political debate where the potential worthiness of future leaders can be ascribed, at least somewhat, to the last letters of their names.
  • Women will dress in men’s clothes.
  • Many people will become fixated on money.
  • People will forget their roots.
  • Many will behave strangely.
  • Men will loose their courage.
  • Women will be unfaithful to their husbands.
  • Rains will fall in the wrong season.
  • The farmers will be controlled.
  • Many people will have lots of money yet, be unhappy in their lives.


This list is hardly exhaustive, though not wishing to disappear into the bowels of pessimism I have declined to repeat many more of similar nature. It is also true, and worthwhile pointing out, that the original Jayabhaya texts have been noted to pertain to the political history of Java in the form of cryptic symbology (pralambang) which invites active interpretation. Symbolism rules supreme. Some other prophecies that may or may not be true, the discernment of which I’ll leave up to you, include ~

  • A rice cooker will be thought to be an egret (or a bad translation).
  • The Javanese will remain half.
  • The Dutch and the Chinese each will remain a pair.
  • The island of Java will be circled by an iron necklace.
  • Horses will devour chilli sauce.
  • The hen will hatch eggs in a carrying pole.
  • Gold will be thought to be copper.

The Javanese Bhāratayuddha Baratayuda, a famous Kakawin manuscript (long poetic narratives written in old Javanese), was also written on the orders of Jayabhaya just prior to the end of his reign. The Bharatayuddha is a Javanese version, of sorts, of the ancient Indian Sanskrit epic of the Mahabharata. Or at the very least, a small portion of it, originally written down on banana leaves (if the author is not mistaken – actually I still have some of the English translations packed away in a box somewhere).

In his old age, Jayabhaya retreated to the life of a Hindu recluse, was regarded as a seer, and apparently declared himself to be a reincarnation of Vishnu. There’s an interesting interpretation of Jayabhaya’s prophecies from a mostly Hindu cosmological point of view  here.

Jayabhaya is one of the more famous seers and poets of old Java. Rest assured the Indonesian archipelago has many more.

Ahh, history, at times like this, I adore you.

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About praccus

Sordid wanderer now residing in Surabaya Indonesia.

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